Social media giant Facebook on Thursday suspended a chatbot operated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official page for violating “hate speech policies”, after a message spread by his campaign warned that Arab Israeli politicians “want to annihilate us all”, a media report said.
A spokesperson for Facebook told Times of Israel that the bot was temporarily suspended for 24 hours and that action would also be taken against any possible future violations of the company’s policy.
“After careful review of the Likud campaign’s bot activities, we found a violation of our hate speech policy. We also found that the bot was misusing the platform in the time period allowed to contact people. As a result, we temporarily suspended the bot for 24 hours. Should there be any additional violations, we will continue to take appropriate action,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.
An Arab lawmaker, Ayman Odeh, leading the predominantly Arab Joint List party had complained against the bot. Odeh welcomed the social media giant’s decision.
“Yesterday we went directly to Facebook and demanded that they stop giving a platform to Netanyahu’s dangerous incitement and today we are seeing the results,” he said.
Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party’s online campaign materials had appealed to voters to thwart the formation of a left-wing government that would partner with Arab Israeli lawmakers.
The right-wing party on Wednesday disavowed the content as a “mistake by a campaign worker” and said that “it had not been approved by the Prime Minister.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu did not see these things, did not approve them, does not agree with them, and opposes them,” a Likud statement said.
“When the content was brought to his attention, he asked that it be taken down immediately,” it added.
Netanyahu in a radio interview on Thursday reiterated that it was a mistake by a campaign employee, emphasising, “I have friends in Arab countries and have respect for all people”. Odeh had called the Prime Minister a "psychopath" and complained to Facebook on Wednesday.
"Netanyahu is a psychopath with no red lines. He wants blood. This disgraceful criminal will continue his bloodletting of us as long as he believes it will help him avoid prison," the Arab lawmaker said hinting at the ongoing investigations against the prime minister in alleged cases of graft.
Netanyahu’s warning that his defeat in September 17th polls, triggered by his inability to form a coalition after April 9 polls leading to an unprecedented repeat elections, would result in the formation of a left-wing coalition with Arab support has been a centerpiece of his campaign.
The Israeli Prime Minister is not new to such controversies and has also been accused of resorting to racism in order to win elections and stay in power. On the election day in 2015, Netanyahu famously warned that Arabs were voting ?in droves? in a bid to get out right-wing voters, comments that evoked worldwide condemnation and for which he later apologised.